- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said yesterday that the United States was ready to work with Cubans seeking real economic and political reform, but that he saw little sign to date of change as ailing leader Fidel Castro passes from the scene.

The Cuban-born Mr. Gutierrez strongly defended the 45-year U.S. trade embargo with Cuba, saying the transfer of power from Mr. Castro to his brother Raul, the longtime defense minister, amounted to a “preservation of dictatorship.”

It is “more than a bit naive” to think the shift from the 81-year-old Fidel to the 75-year-old Raul would bring meaningful reforms, Mr. Gutierrez added.

“Unless the regime changes, our policy will not change,” the Havana-born Mr. Gutierrez said in the first of a series of programs on the future of post-Castro Cuba at the Heritage Foundation.

But he said the U.S. government is anxious to do business with Cuba once the Castro regime is replaced. He said the United States was already the largest source of food and humanitarian aid to the Cuban people, despite the hostility to the regime.

“The question is not, when will the United States change its [embargo] policy? The real question is, when will Cuba change its policies? … We are prepared to work with Cuba if there is real reform,” he said.

Mr. Gutierrez said the situation was less clear for the younger generation of leaders in the Cuban regime who came of age after the 1959 revolution. Many of those officials, he said, have traveled the world, seen the shortcomings of Cuba’s economic model and “know what they’re missing.”

The Bush administration has held firm against calls to ease trade and travel restrictions with Cuba, despite growing calls from Congress and from U.S. farm interests for a change in policy. Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have also backed modifying or eliminating the restrictions.

Embargo opponent Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is hosting a Capitol Hill event today to press for easing restrictions on travel to the Caribbean island nation.

Mr. Gutierrez, a former top Kellogg Co. executive whose family fled Havana for Miami in 1960 when he was 6, said the embargo has been a success because it denied Fidel Castro the “resources” to spread his leftist, anti-American revolution beyond Cuba’s shores.

When Mr. Castro did have such resources, he spent them not on improving the lives of his countrymen but on exporting revolution and military aid to Latin America and Africa, Mr. Gutierrez said.

Mr. Gutierrez said he found it “interesting” that many of the voices in Congress who criticize human rights failings in an ally such as Colombia “are the same people who want to do more business with Cuba.”

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